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County Commission on Unexpected Recess until November 29

BRADENTON – In a Manatee County Commission land use meeting on Thursday, commissioners voted to cancel the scheduled meetings of the board through November 29, 2022. A land use meeting scheduled for November 3, which has already been noticed, will be the only meeting held between now and the end of November.

The item was not included on Thursday's meeting agenda, and Commissioner Vanessa Baugh presented the motion as the meeting was ready to adjourn. When Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge asked whether the intention of the motion was to push items out until after newly elected commissioners were sworn in, Baugh confirmed that was the purpose of her motion.

Baugh’s motion was met with anger by Commissioner Carol Whitmore. Commissioners Whitmore and Misty Servia are incumbents who lost their chance at reelection during the August primaries. The commissioners’ terms, however, do not officially end until November 21.

"I’ve been a commissioner up here for 16 years," said Whitmore. "I’ve never seen anything like this happenÉYou’re trying to stop us commissioners who are duly elected constitutional officers, who are paid over $90,000 a year, from meeting."

Whitmore also pointed out that Baugh is facing an ethics hearing scheduled to begin in less than two weeks. The hearing is intended to determine whether Baugh committed ethics violations for her role in Vaccinegate.

With the hearing set to begin on November 1, the presiding judge has ordered the state attorney advocate (plaintiff) to produce its witness list on or before October 25–the same day as the next scheduled regular BOCC meeting. Though Whitmore raised the ethics hearing during her comments, Baugh did not state that the hearing played any role in her bringing forward the motion.

Although it was Baugh who presented the motion at Thursday’s meeting, it was Commissioner George Kruse who took responsibility for potentially having inspired the motion. During his comments, Kruse told members that he believed it may have been partially due to something he said to County Administrator Scott Hopes that led to the motion being brought forward.

At first, Kruse told the board that the county administrator "came to me" to "ask my opinion about upcoming meetings." Kruse said his discussion with Hopes took place at an October 13 reception party for the 26th Annual Phil Galvano Classic–a fundraiser for the Manatee Educational Foundation. Kruse then appeared to revise his account of who initiated the conversation that night, adding, "I actually brought it up to him (Hopes)."

Kruse said he reviewed a PDF draft agenda for the October 25 regular meeting and noticed only consent items were scheduled to be taken up–there were no regular business items. Kruse stated that upon confirming the content of the draft agenda he "half-jokingly" said to Hopes "what’s the point in having the meeting if it is all consent items?"

Kruse stated that he and Hopes looked over the commission meeting calendar together and discussed how there were not many items planned for upcoming meetings that could not be "pushed off" until the new board was seated, but said he only made suggestions to the administrator and did not give any official directives to cancel meetings.

"These were conversations I had with Scott at the Galvano function," Kruse said, emphasizing that it was an informal conversation that took place while standing at a salad station the night of the reception.

After brief deliberations, the board approved Baugh’s motion in a 4-2 vote. Commissioners Reggie Bellamy and Whitemore voted in opposition. Commissioner Misty Servia left the meeting shortly after Baugh presented her motion and before the vote was taken.

By the time Baugh made the motion, much of the chamber audience had cleared due to the meeting's agenda having been completed, but one citizen remained and approached the podium to give public comment on Baugh's motion.

"I’m the public," began Myakka resident Carol Ann Felts. "I’m the one who pays your salaries."

Ms. Felts suggested that if there was no official business for the commissioners to be conducting over the next several weeks, they should consider filling meeting agendas with items that citizens have requested the commission add to a future agenda.

"I understand that it's a little lame-ducky here as we wait for the new commissioners to come in," Felts added, "but hey, we're paying for your salaries for a four-year term."

When TBT submitted a public record request via email to obtain the PDF draft agenda referenced by Kruse, Administrator Hopes reached out to TBT by phone to say he would instruct staff to scan his hard copy of the draft agenda for production. Hopes told TBT that it was his understanding that commissioners would not have received a PDF of the draft, but commissioners were provided staff briefings on the agenda prior to Thursday’s land use meeting. Hopes told TBT that even without a draft PDF, commissioners do have access to view draft agendas through the OnBase system. Hopes added, "Obviously there was a plan to cancel the meetings prior to Thursday’s meeting."

In a follow-up phone call, Hopes told TBT that the consent agenda from the canceled October 25 meeting would be placed on the November 3 land use meeting. TBT asked Hopes why the October 25 meeting agenda was comprised of only consent items, but Hopes was unable to answer, stating he was receiving a phone call from the superintendent and had to end our call.

TBT obtained two copies of the draft agenda in response to our public record request. One was a scanned copy provided by county staff, and the other was attached to an email that was forwarded to TBTby a commissioner. The forwarded email was dated October 13 and timestamped 12:54 p.m. Click hereto view the October 25 draft agenda.

In recent years, commission meetings have frequently turned to debate over motions being brought to the board for items that did not appear on a meeting’s agenda. In fact, the issue crept into enough meetings that the board instructed the county attorney to draft language to include in the official board procedures that would discourage commissioners from presenting items for a vote that had not first been placed on an agenda.

In April of 2022, the board adopted its official procedures which included revised language concerning "items not on the agenda."

Procedures for the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners' Meetings:

4.4.4 Items Not on Agenda. Matters that do not require separate public notice may, without objection of the majority of the Commissioners present, be considered and acted upon at any regular or special Board meeting pursuant to an amendment to the agenda adopted by majority vote of the Board. Commissioners should not, however, bring matters forward for action by the Board without placing them on the agenda pursuant to section 4.4.2, except when there is an urgent and unforeseeable need for Board action.

The board held a work session in September 2021 and a special meeting in February 2022, and both meetings were focused on draft language for the reinstatement and adoption of the board’s meeting procedures. During both meetings, the issue of items not being added to a meeting's agenda led to lengthy discussions about how and when the board should take up un-agenda-d items for a vote.

Commissioners agreed that language should be added to the board's meeting procedures to assure both commissioners and the public were made aware an item was coming forward for a vote by requiring the item be added to an agenda–unless the item qualified as time-sensitive or "urgent." To address how it would be determined whether any item outside of the agenda qualified as an emergency, the board agreed to first hold a vote to amend the meeting's agenda–allowing members to debate whether the item rose to the level of urgent. If the board voted in majority to amend the agenda; only then could a motion be made to take a vote on any item not appearing on the agenda.

During the September work session Baugh told her colleagues, "I just want to be clear, if a commissioner wants to do something, it has to be put on the agenda."

Kruse was the only commissioner who was vocal against the addition of procedure language to include that the board must first vote to amend an agenda before acting on an item outside of a meeting’s agenda. In both the September work session and the February special meeting, Kruse stressed his opinion that no items should be voted on if they did not appear on an agenda–"unless it's an emergency, like Piney Point."

Kruse told his colleagues that should the board adopt language requiring a vote to first amend an agenda to take up an item not on the agenda–language that was ultimately included in the board's adopted meeting procedures–"I will always be a 'no' vote if the item is not urgent." Kruse stated it was his belief that any item that was not truly an emergency, would also be an item that a commissioner would be aware of with enough time prior to a meeting that it could be placed appropriately on the agenda.

Despite Baugh's motion to cancel meetings not appearing on Thursday's land use agenda, the board voted to approve the motion without holding debate on whether the item rose to the measure of "urgent and unforeseeable need" as outlined in the board's meeting procedures–and without holding a vote to amend the agenda.

Three meetings were canceled by the board’s action: an October 25 regular Meeting, a November 15 regular meeting, and a November 17 land use meeting. The previously scheduled November 3 land use meeting will still be held due to having already been noticed. A November 1 work session was already canceled prior to Thursday's vote.

Including the meetings canceled between now and November 29, a total of 17 BOCC meetings have been canceled this year–four of which were canceled in August, including a budget work session.

The September 2021 work session discussion about board meeting procedures and items not on the agenda can be replayed by clicking here, and for the February 2022 special meeting discussion, click here.

To replay the board's discussion and vote on canceling upcoming meetings, click the video below.

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


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